Studien zur Englischen Romantik, Band 10

Gerold Sedlmayr


The Discourse of Madness in Britain, 1790-1815

Medicine, Politics, Literature

When King George III suffered his first bout of alleged insanity late in 1788, his elevated position as responsible and self-determined 'father' of his people was drastically altered: all of a sudden, the most prominent man in the country was humbled to the level of a group of the excluded whose very humanity was all too often contested: the mad. As if this were not enough, half a year later, the mind-boggling events of the French Revolution seemed to confirm the suspicion of conservative 'physicians of the state' that a destructive madness had begun to infect the world, while radical thinkers, like the young Romantic poets, interpreted them as the dawning of a newly enabling age of individual rights and creative subjectivity. Providing a survey of the momentous quarter of a century ranging from roughly 1790 to 1815, this study puts the discourses of medicine, politics, and literature side by side in order to consider their appropriation of the 'idea' of madness. Thereby, surprising intersections are detected which reveal that the discourse of madness as such functions as a highly valuable indicator of major shifts in pivotal knowledge constellations during the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries: amongst other aspects, the impossible search for a dimension of depth, the construction of individualised case histories, and the ambivalent compulsion towards both humaneness and moral conditioning likewise characterise the new constitutedness of the discourses of medicine, politics, and literature and, by extension, of modern thinking in general.


ISBN 978-3-86821-311-9, 236 S., kt., 24,50 (2011)


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